CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The news could be better for West Virginia's raccoon hunters, but it could also have been worse.
Last year's super-mild winter allowed hunters to kill many, many more coons than they would have during an ordinary winter. At the same time, though, the mild winter and an abundance of food allowed coons to produce more young than they otherwise might.
"So even with last year's high harvest, I think hunters will enjoy a good season this fall and winter," said Rich Rogers, furbearer project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources.
Hunters had a banner year last year, mainly because they hunted from the middle of October through the end of February with almost no breaks for bad weather.
"With hunters in the woods all winter long, a lot of coons bit the dust," Rogers said. "It's kind of funny. Everyone knows a bad winter can affect raccoon survival, but a mild winter sure as heck affects it."
Fortunately, said Rogers, surviving raccoons had plenty to eat - and that allowed them to produce enough offspring to make up for all that hunting mortality.
"We've had enough mast the past couple of years to keep reproduction relatively high, and we believe that will offset the effects of last year's mild winter," he said.
If raccoon hunting has an epicenter in West Virginia, it almost certainly is found in the state's southern counties. Rogers said pelt sales show that southern hunters kill many more coons than northern hunters.
"For the past three years, we've been asking fur buyers to check off whether they bought each pelt from a hunter or from a trapper," he explained. "The only part of the state where more than half the pelts came from hunters is the area south of Charleston. In the rest of the state, most of the pelts came from trappers."
Even that doesn't truly reflect southern coon hunters' enthusiasm for their favorite pastime, Rogers added.
"Keep in mind that a lot of coon hunters will let their dogs tree a coon and then call the dogs off and let the coon go free," he said. "They don't kill everything they tree."
Hunters who manage to kill raccoons this fall might or might not get good prices for the pelts.
"Fur markets hadn't been good, but this year they were pretty good," Rogers said. "The market has since been flooded with pelts, so we'll have to wait and see what happens [for next year]."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.